Sleep and the Elderly

Often, as we age, we experience normal changes in our sleeping patterns, such as becoming sleepy earlier, waking up earlier, or experiencing less deep sleep. Although sleep requirements vary from person to person, most healthy adults require 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night. However, disturbed sleep, waking up tired every day, and other symptoms of insomnia are not a normal part of aging.


According to The Sleep Foundation, the prevalence of insomnia is higher among older adults. According to NSF’s 2003 Sleep in America poll, 44% of older persons experience one or more of the nighttime symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week or more. Insomnia may be chronic (lasting over one month) or acute (lasting a few days or weeks) and is oftentimes related to an underlying cause such as a medical or psychiatric condition.



Many cases of insomnia, or sleep difficulties, are caused by underlying causes. Knowing the possible triggers for sleep deprivation or insomnia may help you understand the risks and how to treat the condition.


Common causes of insomnia in older adults

Here is a helpful list of some of the possible causes of insomnia, from helpguide.org


Poor sleep habits and sleep environment. These include irregular sleep hours, consumption of alcohol before bedtime, and falling asleep with the TV on. Make sure your room is comfortable, dark and quiet, and your bedtime rituals conducive to sleep.

Pain or medical conditions. Health conditions such as a frequent need to urinate, pain, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, osteoporosis, nighttime heartburn, and Alzheimer’s disease can interfere with sleep. Talk to your doctor to address any medical issues.

Menopause and post-menopause. During menopause, many women find that hot flashes and night sweats can interrupt sleep. Even post-menopause, sleep problems can continue. Improving your daytime habits, especially diet and exercise, can help.

Medications. Older adults tend to take more medications than younger people and the combination of drugs, as well as their side-effects, can impair sleep. Your doctor may be able to make changes to your medications to improve sleep.

Lack of exercise. If you are too sedentary, you may never feel sleepy or feel sleepy all the time. Regular aerobic exercise during the day can promote good sleep.

Stress. Significant life changes like retirement, the death of a loved one, or moving from a family home can cause stress. Nothing improves your mood better than finding someone you can talk to face-to-face.

Lack of social engagement. Social activities, family, and work can keep your activity level up and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. If you’re retired, try volunteering, joining a seniors’ group, or taking an adult education class.

Sleep disorders. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and sleep-disordered breathing—such as snoring and sleep apnea—occur more frequently in older adults.

Lack of sunlight. Bright sunlight helps regulate melatonin and your sleep-wake cycles. Try to get at least two hours of sunlight a day. Keep shades open during the day or use a light therapy box.


3 Ways to Improve Sleep


Turn off Devices - Scrolling through social media, checking emails, or watching videos on smart phones, iPads, or even the television can cause an individual to suppress the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. It can also delay your body's internal clock and make it more difficult to fall asleep.


Routine is Key - Ensuring you follow a regular routine before bed is important to maintain proper sleeping habits. Setting a schedule to wake up and go to bed, making sure the room is dark and limiting noise, and developing self0care habits such as using essential oils like lavender, playing music, or even meditating can improve your quality of sleep.


Diet & Exercise - As with all other health related concerns, diet and exercise can be the key to better sleep. Limiting caffeine and alcohol before bed, avoiding heavy meals late in the evening, and being physically active throughout the day can help in sleeping better and waking refreshed.



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